IMMIGRATION: Let’s remember that we’re all immigrants.

The United States has always been a country of immigrants — from the early European settlements in the 1600s to the following waves of immigrants over the next several centuries. People came from all over the world and for a world of reasons, including to gain religious freedom, to escape oppression, to acquire land, and to build better lives for their families. The assimilation of newcomers into American society isn’t alway easy. There are often cultural, religious, and linguistic differences. Yet, immigrants have long been willing to do the hard unattractive jobs and to work for lower wages to create a better future for themselves and their children. And, over time, in our melting pot the differences were smoothed away, acknowledged or accepted and the newcomers became proud Americans. So today, as Americans, we eat, pizza, bagels and springrolls and celebrate Oktoberfest, St. Patrick's Day,, Cinco de Mayo, and many more, depending on your community. A more recent trend is that we’re not just seeing a majority of immigrants with little to no formal education, we are also seeing a number of highly educated immigrants who are filling many of the advanced technology jobs opening up in our growing economy. As the population growth among U.S.-born citizens is declining, young hard-working, tax-paying immigrants are making up for that deficit. And, at the same time by increasing the tax base they help provide much-needed financial cover for Medicaid and Social Security benefits for our aging population.. Furthermore, immigrants have a lower unemployment rate than U.S.-born citizens. They more often have a job than U.S..-born citizens, which means they are paying more in taxes than the non-working U.S. citizens. Typically, the first-generation immigrant children cost society – for schooling and healthcare, while the next generation are stronger economic contributors through low unemployment, better jobs, and higher tax rates. In short, immigration can have high initial costs, but in the long run it generates multiple benefits. And, who better to help the American economy grow than Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients in whom we’ve already invested and who attended American schools, speak English, and have embraced American culture? Recently, at a community forum on homelessness hosted by the Hickory Police Department I learned another interesting fact that debunks the myth that immigrants are a burden on the American people: In Hickory, there are no Latinos among the homeless population. Still we have to take illegal immigration and its negative side effects seriously. We must invest in better education to raise the level of U.S.-born knowledge workers. But, we must be careful and avoid driving illegal immigrants who have jobs and pay taxes off the grid of American society where they can fall prey to criminal drug, sex or illegal labor traffickers. Instead, let’s work toward a path of legal citizenship for those who are already part of our community, pay taxes, and do not have criminal backgrounds. A vote for Vandett is a vote for common-sense policies for the newest members of our society.

ECONOMY AND JOBS: Let’s invest in our workers and infrastructure.

The U.S. economy was hit hard in 2008. It has taken a long time to recover, especially in manufacturing, an important economic sector in our state and region. Now, we are on the right track again and unemployment is down. But, wages have hardly increased. Furthermore, most new jobs either pay extremely well or only slightly above minimum wage, with very few in between1. There is a lot of talk about trade – whether it hurts us or helps us. Trade agreements provide low-cost appliances, phones, TVs, and cars -- many made in China. As China has increased its position in international furniture trade, it has meant a loss of manufacturing jobs and a stagnation of real wages in manufacturing in North Carolina. Even with the state’s minimum wage at the lowest federally allowable level -- $7.25 per hour -- we cannot compete with minimum wages as low as $2.00 per hour. Nor should we. Too many people already have to work two jobs to provide for their families. Our minimum wage is not a living wage and it must be raised. This will take time as we have to stay competitive, but I will work for that increase from the moment I arrive in Raleigh. The economy is changing rapidly. We need to focus on preparing our workforce for the future. A shift towards businesses in the service industry, which includes retail, restaurants, and transportation, and new technologies and automation in manufacturing are creating a gap between supply and demand in the labor market. Employers seek skills and knowledge presently not available in the workforce. We are already seeing lots of job openings in Catawba and Alexander counties that are hard to fill. The skill set and knowledge base that was good enough 10-15 years ago is no longer sufficient to compete in today’s job market. That needs to change. We must invest in education and training of the current and future workforce. We must also help assure that hardworking people who lose their jobs due to economic shifts do not have to face financial hardship or even ruin. We need programs to retrain workers for available jobs. We also need to invest in infrastructure. The attractiveness of Catawba and Alexander for new businesses is determined by many factors, including location, available workforce, and infrastructure. Infrastructure includes transportation, including access to airports and a good system of highways. The expansion of Highway 16 is opening new opportunities for businesses as well as affordable housing for commuters who work in the Charlotte area. What I’m saying is that there are no easy answers, but there are solutions and we need legislators in Raleigh willing to seek them for our businesses, for our economy, and for you. A vote for Vandett is a vote for jobs and a stronger economy. 1)

GERRYMANDERING: Let’s make every vote count.

One of the great virtues of a democracy is that the people can choose a new government when they don’t like the old one. They make this choice at the ballot box. It only takes half of the votes plus one to achieve that. But this is not necessarily true in North Carolina where sophisticated data techniques made it possible for those in power in the General Assembly to redraw districts in favor of their political party. This redrawing of districts, or gerrymandering, is a time-honored practice in U.S. politics. The term gerrymandering comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry, a founding father and the nation’s fifth vice president. In 1812, his Massachusetts administration enacted a law that redrew new state senatorial districts from boundaries that followed county lines. And, yes, the new districts favored his party. That gerrymandering is legal to a certain extent doesn’t make it the right thing to do. The North Carolina General Assembly has taken gerrymandering to such extremes that the courts recently struck down the North Carolina redistricting maps for the second time. It is time to take the redistricting of voters away from the General Assembly. Instead, an independent commission should draw new congressional districts, both state and federal, that reflect the results of the most recent census. The concept of one-person, one-vote dictates that districts should be roughly equal in population. Other factors to be considered are the federal Voting Rights Act, district shape, geographical features, and potential competitiveness. A vote for Vandett is a voice for all voters.

EDUCATION: I will fight for our children.

North Carolina used to have great public schools. That is in the past. Now, we only rank 40th in education compared with other states. And, our General Assembly treats our teachers like disposable goods, not like dedicated professionals who are so vital to our children’s lives. Even with recent too-little too-late actions by the General Assembly to increase teacher pay, our state still ranks 37th in the nation for teacher pay. This downward trend in pay and benefits started with the 2008 recession, which hit North Carolina hard. Lawmakers slashed the budget. That was just the beginning; more budget cuts followed. On top of that, the General Assembly started a real-life experiment with education when it lifted the cap on charter schools and loosened their approval standards. In our state, charter schools are taxpayer-funded, but are shielded from requirements for transportation, free/reduced price lunches, fully licensed teachers, maximum class size, and safety standards. At the same time, they can be run for-profit So, not only did lawmakers cut funding for public schools, they “robbed Peter to pay Paul” by transferring your taxpayer dollars from public schools to charter schools. Our children are bearing the brunt of these callous decisions. Our state is now known as one of the least-attractive states for teachers. Enrollment is down in our universities that prepare teachers and experienced educators are leaving North Carolina for states that value education. This is all happening at a time when the role of public education is even more crucial to prepare our children for higher-paying 21st century jobs as knowledge workers. Today’s advanced technologies place new demands on the workforce. Many job openings in our district cannot be filled due to the available workforce’s lack of skills and relevant training. We now must rely on the HB-1 visa program to get knowledge workers to meet these demands. Over the past five years, high-technology companies in North Carolina employed 71,875 foreign knowledge workers. In Catawba County, private companies and public schools are partnering to tailor school programs to the needs of the labor market. This means a job is almost guaranteed upon graduation from high school. This way we can keep our youth in our community and offer gainful employment. Our state needs more than local initiatives, however. Much more. We must rebuild our public education system to train the future workforce so that we can provide employers with knowledge workers and, in turn, attract more businesses to locate here. But, rebuilding the public system will take time, focus, and funding. The damage done in the last decade will not be easily undone. We need common-sense legislation that holds charter schools accountable to the same standards as public schools and we must treat educators for what they are – dedicated professionals who are so important in preparing the next generation for successful and prosperous lives. A vote for Vandett is a vote for our children’s future.

OPIOIDS AND DRUG ADDICTION: Let’s address this crisis.

The use of prescription drugs in the United States is the highest in the world. This was not always the case. The trend started in the 1990s when Americans started to experience more chronic pain. The pharmaceutical industry took advantage of this and through intensive marketing, they persuaded doctors to over-prescribe products like OxyContin and Percocet. While the benefits of these medications were and remain uncertain, the risks were downplayed. It didn’t work. More Americans than ever suffer from chronic pain and more than ever before are addicted to opioids, like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. The public health community has now identified over-prescription of these drugs as a leading cause of the problem. But in areas where there is a reduction of prescription opioid use, there is also an increase in the use of drugs like heroin and illegal fentanyl. There is more to the opioid crisis than battling chronic pain. Look at the hard lives so many of our neighbors live. Factors like poverty, isolation, the stress of having two jobs to make ends meet and provide for your family, and lack of education – these all play important roles in opioid and drug addiction. It is no wonder rural America has been hit hard by the opioid crisis. When communities decline economically and there is no prospect of improvement they start to unravel. And, when people see drugs as an easy way to happiness – even though temporary – they become an easy target for drug dealers. As addiction gains critical mass, it gets harder to roll it back. When people around you are addicts the risk of getting addicted increases. Where there is demand for opioids and drugs, there will always be a supplier. Local dealers can make money to escape poverty, but it’s at the expense of those who are most vulnerable, like teenagers. And the effect on families is devastating. I know because my wife and I lost our son last year to an opioid overdose. There are no easy solutions when the cause of the problem lies in economics, poverty, lack of education, and isolation. It’s about rebuilding communities that have been hit hard. We need people working together and finding purpose together to reinvigorate our communities. That will take time. In the meantime, we must focus on prevention, harm reduction, treatment, and criminal justice. We must protect our children by educating them and treat and rehabilitate those willing to end their addiction. For those unwilling or unable to be helped, then we need a criminal justice system that focuses on rehabilitation and not simply locking up those individuals who could not deal with the curveballs that life threw them. Opioids and drugs don’t help, but purpose, prospects and opportunity do. A vote for Vandett is a vote for purpose, prospects, and practical solutions.

VETERANS: I will fight for our veterans.

I am a veteran. I served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. I feel strongly that our state should meet its obligations to the people who serve our country and help protect the freedoms we enjoy. There are many areas that require careful attention when addressing issues that affect veterans. For one, returning home from service abroad to live in civilian society is a transition not every veteran is able to make. I know from personal experience it isn’t easy. Some veterans suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and, unfortunately, too many end up homeless. We have an obligation to help veterans reintegrate into society from the moment they get discharged. And, we must help those individuals who get off track. We should establish more veterans treatment courts to help veterans charged with non-violent crimes who need mental health or substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration. Today, our state has four veterans treatment courts -- in Buncombe, Cumberland, Forsyth, and Harnett counties. There is a large number of veterans in North Carolina – some 666,000 people or about 8.6 percent of the state’s adult population. The Hickory-Morganton metropolitan area has a relatively large veteran population. Past efforts to set up a veterans treatment court here have failed. I will work hard in Raleigh to help to make this happen. We owe our veterans more than a thank you for their service. We owe the men and women who risk their lives for our freedom far more. A vote for Vandett is a vote for our veterans.

TAXATION: Let’s make our tax code work for all of us.

I don’t know anyone who likes to pay taxes. Yet, without taxes we would not have the armed forces, police, and fire departments to protect us. We would have no schools, libraries, or parks. We would have no roads, parking lots, trash and sewage services, and countless other services we take for granted. Taxation is a necessary means to an end. It has to deliver best value for money and it has to be fair. Best value for money means holding government agencies and employees accountable for how they spend our tax dollars, work to prevent waste as well as make smart decisions about providing a service or outsourcing it to the private sector. It’s the role of the NC General Assembly to hold the executive branch accountable; that is exactly what I will do as Senator. Taxation should be fair. Unfortunately, recent changes in the Federal and State tax codes are not so fair. The changes are treating the rich to a gourmet dinner and the leftovers go to the poor and the middle class. The income taxes and taxation on wealth have gone down mostly for the rich, like the estate tax – yet, who inherits an estate of more than $5.5 million? At the same time, North Carolina legislators increased sales taxes. When paying taxes is concerned, the NC tax code has been asking more from the middle class and the poor than it has been asking from the rich. Is that fair? As a result, income inequality -- the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us-- is the greatest it’s ever been. Think about that. It’s not only taxes widening the gap. It’s also stagnant wages for the middle class, a minimum wage that is not a living wage, and slashing budgets per student that makes college education for your children such a financial burden. A fair tax system places the heaviest burdens on the strongest shoulders. This is what we need for North Carolina. We need a tax code that provides funds to invest in infrastructure, education, healthcare, and new technologies to boost the economy of our great state. We need to focus our energies and our resources on assuring we educate our workers and provide them the better-paying jobs they so badly need. Businesses have to pay their fair share, too. The corporate tax rate in North Carolina is already the lowest of all states that have one. If we keep the current legislators in Raleigh, it could get even lower. While it is important to be competitive with other states to attract businesses, let’s not overdo it. It is better to use tax incentives to attract new businesses and stimulate economic development. By cutting taxes unnecessarily, the General Assembly is mortgaging our children’s future by creating a deficit -- a debt our children will have to pay. I stand for a healthy fiscal policy that balances spending to meet the needs of society --education, healthcare, and infrastructure -- and corporate, income, and sales tax rates that prevent budget deficits and help develop our state’s economy for ALL North Carolinians. A vote for Vandett is a vote for fair common-sense taxes.


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